Conservatives are obsessed with cutting spending this year, no matter the collateral damage. Think early childhood education is important? Too bad – cut. Maybe higher-ed? Nope - cut. Healthcare for poor children? Cut. Services for seniors? Tough luck – cut.
At a certain point, you have to wonder what in the world these legislators think they are doing. Forget the moral arguments for a moment (we’ve made them), and let’s concentrate on something we know they’re focused on: self interest.
Take Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, who just reiterated his objections to fully funding the early childhood education program that the Superior Court has ordered him to support. Looking at statistical models, we can project what the rest of his life, as well as millions like him, will look like. Tillis is 52 years old, which means--at least statistically—that he has another 29 years to go. We can also project that his health will begin to decline around age 60 and continue to do so, with a probable trip to a nursing home, before he dies somewhere around 2040.
At the same time Speaker Tillis is sliding into his sunset years, the children to whom he is currently denying a sound educational foundation will be growing up. In his new North Carolina, the funding level of their primary and secondary education is 49th in the nation. This impoverishment of public education does not bode well for their future success. Since these children’s parents sadly might remain unemployed due to the lack of any job creation initiative by the General Assembly, their health care will probably be awful as well, given that Medicaid reimbursement rates are abysmal and very few doctors opt to treat Medicaid patients as a result. And when these children finally do graduate high school and try to move on to college, they may not be able to afford the tuition, even at our state schools, since the funding to the university system was slashed so drastically and tuition hikes had to make up the difference.
All of this is probably not of interest or concern to Speaker Tillis right now, because he’s healthily, employed, and generally independent. But as he ages, he will become more and more dependent on the very children he and his conservative colleagues have shunned. When he is 70 years old, the children entering preschool right now will be moving into the workforce as nurses and doctors and home health workers and everything else. Unfortunately for him—and the rest of us--these people will have been poorly educated, so they might not be the best nurses they could have been. Unfortunately, as well, the doctors had to take on so much debt in college and med school that they cannot afford to treat Tillis for the Medicare reimbursement rate, so he’s left to less capable physicians. His home healthcare worker has a chronic health condition which causes her to miss work repeatedly, a result of the poor healthcare she received as a child, and his health suffers as a result.
The reality is that being rich and powerful only insulates you for so long from the world you create for those around you. And that, for Speaker Tillis, could be very unfortunate. For his sake, and for ours, let’s help him connect cause and effect sooner rather than later.